Bill would provide paid leave to some kin of slain police officers
by Tim Lockette
tlockette@annistonstar.com
Dec 03, 2013 | 3190 views |  0 comments | 54 54 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Jeniffer Morris, mother of Justin Sollohub, and Byron Morris, Sollohub’s stepfather, reflect on the life of the slain Anniston police officer at their home. (Anniston Star photo by Bill Wilson)
Jeniffer Morris, mother of Justin Sollohub, and Byron Morris, Sollohub’s stepfather, reflect on the life of the slain Anniston police officer at their home. (Anniston Star photo by Bill Wilson)
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MONTGOMERY — State Rep. Randy Wood hopes everyone will vote for his latest bill — and he hopes no one will ever use it.

Wood, a Republican from Saks, has pre-filed a bill for the 2014 legislative session that would grant administrative leave to state employees who are subpoenaed to testify in the trials of accused cop-killers.

"I hope and pray that we never have to deal with that again," Wood said. "But you've got to be prepared."

In September, several Calhoun County residents traveled to Lee County to testify in the trial of 26-year-old Joshua Eugene Russell, who was convicted in the shooting death of Anniston police officer Justin Sollohub. Russell shot Sollohub — a 27-year-old described by his colleagues as one of the best young officers in the Police Department — after a foot chase near Moore Avenue and 19th Street in August 2011.

Sollohub's death stunned the community, and Russell's trial was moved to Opelika in search of a jury without prior knowledge of the case.

Sollohub's mother, Jeniffer Morris, was in Opelika every day of the two-week trial. She took the stand, telling jurors about the officer she described as her "baby boy."

Grim as it was, Morris was technically on vacation. Morris works in child support enforcement for the state Department of Human Resources. The state doesn't offer administrative leave to employees to testify in trials, she said, so she used her personal leave instead.

It was far from the biggest problem in her life, Morris said, but the leave days did add up.

"We'd been to so many pre-trials," she said. "Even when my son was shot and in the hospital, I had to take personal leave."

Wood said his bill would give Morris her leave back, at least for the two weeks of the trial. The bill, retroactive to January of this year, grants leave to any state employee subpoenaed to testify in a trial when a police officer is killed — and grants the same leave to any state employee who is a parent of a slain police officer, if their presence is requested by the district attorney.

Morris noted that state employees do have a leave pool, which she could have drawn on if she'd exhausted her leave before the trial was over.

But Wood said the state should do what it can to make it easy for relatives of officers to testify.

"It's something we owe them," he said.

Wood acknowledged that the bill, if passed, may apply only to a small number of people. FBI statistics show Sollohub as the only officer "feloniously killed" in Alabama in 2011. In 2012, two Alabama officers — a Baldwin county deputy and a Mobile police officer — were killed by assailants. No one has tracked the number of state employees who’ve been asked to testify in similar cases over the years.

Wood said that while he got the idea for the bill after talking to Morris, the bill isn't just for her. Her experience, he said, revealed a loophole in the system.

"We should fix this now, so it will be fixed if something like this happens again," he said.

Wood said the two-page bill was worded strictly to keep administrative leave limited to people testifying in a homicide case involving the killing of police officers.

"You can't take care of everything for everybody," he said. "We're limiting it to this one, very serious situation."

Capitol & statewide correspondent Tim Lockette: 256-294-4193. On Twitter @TLockette_Star.

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